Sunday 30 November 2008

Good-bye Gran

Had another very long day. This time full of tears and prayers. My gran passed away this morning, peacefully and surrounded by family, Inna Lillah Wainna Ilayhi Rajioon. My last post looks so naive now, I really thought we would bring her home and she would be around for a while yet.

So we have had a day of crying, comforting each other, mourning and holding on to each other. I have lost the ability to cry and everyone else seems unable to stop. People have been streaming through the house all day and will do so for days. All day we have had the retelling of stories and recalling of memories with events veering from old-fashioned noisy Pakistani wake (she would have liked that) to the silent murmuring of prayers (which she will need right now).

I am so worried about what will be happening with her now. I am so pleased she said shahadah before she left us.

Your prayers are humbly requested.

Dearest Gran

What a long day and night I have had. I was sitting in bed early this morning having a good old chat with my better half when I got a phone call from my dad. My poor old gran had been taken ill and was in emergency. I rushed to wake the kids and drop them with my sisters and get to the hospital. I have never seen her looking so gaunt or listless.

Before long the rest of the family had gathered round and were sat in a state of nervous upset. It’s funny how we all react to such situations. My dad stood around looking stern, my mum and youngest uncle both burst into tears (later she rushed off to make chicken soup for gran), my youngest aunty alternated between seeing to my gran and reading from the prayer book she pulled out of her bag, my middle uncle headed straight for the prayer room, my middle aunty regaled us with her list of ailments and proclamations of how upset she was, my cousin turned to the wall to hide his tears and my husband ferried people back and forth and went to fetch whatever anyone needed. Myself? I alternated between stroking my gran’s hair, massaging her legs and helping her with her ablutions and sticking my head in the Stephen King novel I was reading and pretending this was not happening.

I spent most of the day with her, apart from a stint when I came home to check on the kids and eat (my mum’s home that is). Gran went from being racked with pain to being completely unresponsiveness. For part of the day I was alone with her and could not get her back into bed, with much pushing and pulling I managed to get her onto the edge and then had to wait for help.

Today frightened me. I was scared of old age; scared of the pain, the indignity and the frustration of a body that does not do what you want, Dearest Rabb what a test. As I sat with the rest of my family, I kept thinking about when we were kids and me and my brother would get out of bed and pester her whilst she prayed salaah knowing she could not really get cross with us. How she would make us fat paratha’s covered in ghee to go with sweet milky tea and scrambled eggs when she could still walk to the kitchen to cook How she lived with me when I was expecting Little Lady and would open a pomegranate every day for when I got home from work and hand me a plate saying it was good for the baby. How she would rock newborn Little Lady to sleep as she prayed tasbih whilst I cooked in the kitchen. I wondered too what would happen if we lost her. She was the glue that held our garrulous family together, a mother holding on to all of her quarrelsome children and using all of her intelligence, guile and wisdom to keep them together, without her we would fall apart. No-one could take her place.

A little while ago, the doctors came and went rushing off with her, a looong while later he came back to tell us that she was starting to respond and the situation was starting to come under control. Subhan’Allah. I think we will have her around for a bit yet insh’Allah, but it was heartbreaking to see my lucid, chatterbox gran lose heart so. My poor middle uncle was due to go for hajj in the morning, so is wondering what he should do. Opinions range from yes that’s the best place he can be to pray for her, to no, he has done his fard hajj and so his mother should now take priority. Allah knows best and I am sure he is in torment.

Please be kind enough to make dua for me and my family and especially my gran.

Hajj Journal 2005 – Part 1: Getting There

As my best friend just left for Hajj (may Allah SWT accept her pilgrimage insh'Allah), I dug out my old Hajj journal from 2005 (the year there were two Hajj – January and the following December). I recognised so many of her hopes and worries in what I had written. I had hoped to reproduce this last year, but didn’t get the chance, so here goes.

29 November 2005 – Received Tickets today for our Hajj, after weeks of worrying and doubt. This means we are definitely going! (insh’Allah). Trying to get ready physically (packing), financially (will, debts, bills) and spiritually (Fazail-e-Hajj, reading hajj journals, learning dua’s). Feel so unprepared.

2 December 2005 – It hasn’t sunk in that we are going. Still keep praying that we will actually go. What a humbling thought that Allah (SWT) would wish to invite the likes of us to his house.

10 December 2005 – Every now and again it enters my heart during salaah or just whilst thinking that we are going to the house of Allah (SWT). It overwhelms me completely, I can neither imagine it nor does it feel entirely real.

22 December 2005 – After a false start (should have flown 14/12/05) and much anguish I am sitting in Jeddah airport. Can’t believe I am here! (Can’t believe am still wearing this niqab!). Got to Heathrow last week only to be told that my husband’s passport doesn’t have a visa to go via Cyprus. Had to find someone to take us home (the kindness of strangers) and much whinging, crying, navel-gazing, wondering and sulking ensued. Am now trying to get a plane ticket to Madinah to catch up with our group (Insh’Allah). Have missed a weeks worth of ibadah/Umrah at Makkah and also the experience of putting your ihram on on the plane and preparing to enter Makkah, but everything happens as Allah (SWT) intends and we should accept this. Am starting to miss my babies, I hope Allah (SWT) makes this easy for them and me.

22 December 2005 – Finally in MADINAH!!!! Got two free tickets in Jeddah from a man who said he was going by bus and got to Madinah in 30 minutes (6 hours plus by bus). Sooo relieved. Read Asr, Maghrib and Esha in Masjid Nabvi. Will try to do salaam tomorrow. Overwhelmed and exhausted.

Friday 28 November 2008

Cards for Eid Al-Adha: First Batch

This eid, I didn't plan on making cards, thinking I would not have the time. Then I bought some eid clothes for my nephews and neices in Pakistan and thought it would be nice to send a card with them. I remember last year looking at my craft supplies for ages and not knowing where to start. So this year I pasted down a bunch of different backgrounds from bits of paper and cuttings and let them be my starting point.

This background is from an Eid magazine put out by the Mayor of London for Eid ul-Fitr 2008 featuring the amazing work of an artist called Shahida Ahmed. (I found the magazine online here).

This purple and gold pattern is from a luxury-goods catalogue, I continued the pattern onto the background with a gold stamp.

More of the same catalogue paper with a different stamp and different shaped gems. I just wish I could cut straight (I have a guillotine I found in the £-shop, but it doesn't cut leaving clean lines - I guess that's why it costs a pound).

Another background from the eid magazine.

Also a background from the eid magazine

This was one of a series of different coloured pictures I cut out from a university brochure. They were all natural looking shots in different colours (including the one before).

Incidentally, this is where I get my Eid Mubarak and Happy Eid peel-offs.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Update: Interviews and Runny Noses

Seeing as I went on and on about interviews, I thought it only fair that I ‘fess up about the results. I had my first interview last week, the presentation went well, the interview went poorly (“how would you ensure best practise in commissioning and ensure best value” ”erm…”). So when I left, I knew I didn’t have the job and this was confirmed. Part of me didn’t mind too much as the more I found out about the project (Preventing Violent Extremism) the more reservations I had. Also I am a big believer in what’s meant to be will happen, so I didn’t really see the point in moping. On Monday I had my second interview which was internal and which I was not too fussed about and which was a lot more orthodox (“Tell us, what are your strengths and weaknesses?”). It seemed to go okay except I got the feeling I was being railroaded into a post that I hadn’t chosen (Performance Support) rather than the two I had expressed an interest in (Public Affairs and Research). I got feedback two days later that the interview had gone very well and that they were offering me the Performance Support role. I did say that it wasn’t the post I was originally interested in, but no-one was listening. I expect I will take it up, as the work still seems interesting and the people I will be working with are very good at what they do. I will also try my hand at negotiating pay and scale, not something I am great at but no ask no get is what I keep telling my children. I suspect I am not due to be transferred over till early next year.

On the home front, I thought I would get away with a illness-free 2008. So far I have managed to avoid catching the numerous viruses and colds that go round at work and periodically lead to the kids noses leaking all over the place. That was until yesterday when I woke feeling like I had swallowed sandpaper. I struggled through the day at work and though I was getting better, until I found myself spending all of last night making trips to the bathroom to heave up bile – I kept getting strong deja-vu from my pregnancies (it just reminded me never ever to get pregnant again and to ignore the broodiness that is creeping up on me again). I seem to have caught this off of Gorgeous, who also spent last night fussing. My other half was kind enough to take care of him whilst I dragged myself back and forth from the bathroom in the dark.

In the end I called in sick to work (my first in about three years, so I don’t feel guilty) and I feel a bit better now, having dosed up on Ibuprofen so I might be able to get a few things done, play with the boys for a bit and pick up Little Lady from school which always makes her smile.

Monday 24 November 2008

Muslim’s and Christmas

It’s coming up to that time of year again – gifts, parties and traditions for some and dilemmas for others: Christmas. Every year, Christmas for me brings a set of challenges – do I capitulate and join in or do I hold my ground. This first came up when Little Lady came home with a letter asking us to tick boxes to choose her Christmas lunch (including non-halal turkey and halal chicken options). It’s still sitting at home. A few days later she came home with three pages of Christmas carol lyrics and a note saying “Please help your child learn these songs”. So far I have conveniently forgotten all about it, but saw Little Lady sitting trying to read them out and sing them.

Today at work, we also have to give our names in for the “Secret Santa” game and put down the deposit for the Christmas lunch. I used to join in at the periphery, play Secret Santa for a laugh, go the Christmas lunch as long as it is during work time. Today had a little think about this, but not much – I am just going to have some backbone and say NO to anything to do with Christmas. It helps that my colleague who is a religious Christian (Seventh Day Adventist) has warned everyone, in the kindest of words, not to mention Christmas anywhere near her.

As a child my dad was very clear that we will have nothing to do with this celebration – no part in the nativity play or school choir or Christmas lunch, although we still loved the school Christmas party and Christmas telly.

My only concern is for my daughter feeling left-out. I suppose that is one of the benefits of Islamic school: that we don’t have to deal with these kinds of issues. It helps that Eid-ul-Adha is also in December – I will be sending a card to Little Lady’s class along with lots of sweets and cakes and remind her that we have already had our own “Christmas” first. She has been pleading with me to let her take a packed lunch, so I will give her one for the day of the Christmas lunch, and if she wants to learn the carol lyrics – she is welcome to try (I can just imagine her singing Jingle Bells in a full assembly hall to her own made-up tune – she is very loud!).

There are some benefits for us at this time of year: winter sales, a week off from work and the Dr Who Christmas Special, but the challenges feel bigger, especially when it comes to your children.

This day I have perfected your religion for you, have completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. ~ Al-Quraan 5:3.

The Messenger (PBUH) said: He who imitates a people is one of them. ~Ahmad

N.B. Sister Rainbow pointed out there was an excellent video by Abdul Hakim Quick called Holiday Myths, Christmas, Halloween, Valentine's Day And Easter, Should we celebrate? which can be bought here. There is also an excellent talk on Youtube called The Truth About Holidays by the same brother.

Book Review: Frank Herbert – Dune

Throughout my teenage years I was hooked on the books of James Herbert (I DO NOT recommend these books to fellow Muslimah’s – ahem). Right next to them on the library shelf was a fat book called Dune by Frank Herbert which looked interesting. I meant to take this book out – but I kept getting way-laid by the pulp horror of James. Until recently that is, Long-Suffering Sister had a copy and asked me if I would like to read it. As James has tried to go all high-brow and lost some of the gore-factor of his books, I decided to give Frank’s book a go. I’m glad I did.

I am not a major science fiction fan, but those sci-fi novels that I have found to be any good have often been amongst the best books I have read (The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids both by John Windham and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley amongst others)

Frank Herbert’s Dune is set some 20,000 years in the future and centres around the aristocratic House Atreides – one of many royal houses affiliated to the Imperial Emperor Shaddam. Fearing the growing popularity and power of the House Atreides, Shaddam gives the house responsibility for the hostile desert planet of Arakkis (the only known source of the spice melange that enables space travel and various religious rituals). Arrakis was previously the responsibility of House Harkonnen, the enemies of Atreides who use the inter-planetary move to plan an attack against the Atreides. The book follows the politics and intrigue of the great houses and the fate of the sole heir of the Atreides Duke Paul.

Juxtaposed with this is the story of the fierce desert-people of Arrakis called the Fremen and the women of the Bene Gesserit school who are married into all of the great houses to help preserve the royal bloodlines (Paul’s mother Lady Jessica is a Bene Gesserit). These women undergo rigorous mental and physical training in order to influence the houses they marry into and there are curious references around them relating to religion, myth-making and mind-over-matter.

Alongside these are the CHOAM corporation which manages the Imperial economy, the Spacing Guild which monopolizes space travel, Mentat’s or master assassins, the Imperial Guard called Sardaukar and the prison planet Salisa Secudus. Confused? A lot happens in this book.

One of the things I fund curious was the author’s use of Arabic and Islamic terminology: Kul Wahad, ulema, ummah, shariah, ilm, auliya, dar al-hikman, hajj, jihad, sayyidina. Today, we might be tempted to be offended due to the obvious Islamophobia that abounds, but you have to remember that this book was published in 1965 before these were buzz-words were common and are used mainly by the Fremen who are portrayed almost as noble savages of a kind.

I have read an interesting comparison of the war between Atreides and the Imperial Emperor and his allies the Harkonnen, with the Middle East and its Oil and the West. I don’t know how much truth there is in this comparison, but if that is the case, then Herbert was ahead of his time. The Fremen of Arrakis certainly often reminded me of Bedouin and the spice melange could be an analogy for oil.

In any case, this was an absorbing and enjoyable read. You certainly come to care about the fates of the main protagonists and the book is fast-paced and exciting. Occasionally I felt that the novel went off into la-la land – talking about prana-nervature, awareness spectrum narcotics, the panoplia prophetica and hypno-ligation of the psyche. At times like this, I longed for the characters to come back to earth (or their planetary equivalent) and get back to the action.

Dune has often been called the best science fiction novel ever regularly topping sci-fi book lists. I am not sure whether I agree, but Herbert certainly creates a fully-formed alternative world complete with every kind of political, social and economical system intact right from the beginning of the novel and he does so with some skill. My curiosity has certainly been piqued enough to look for the prequels and sequels to this book.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Saturday Morning Crafts

Keeping the kids busy on a Saturday morning:

Telling Children the Truth

I have often thought about what we tell our children about the events that surround them in the big bad old world and to what extent we can protect them and how honest we should be with them. The matter came to the fore again this week when lady lady asked me “Mummy what happened to Baby P?”

Baby P is the name given by the media to the poor child tortured to death by his mother and her boyfriend and which has really elicited an emotive response from the public.

I was surprised in the first place, because I wondered where she has picked this up – we don’t have a telly and she can’t read a newspaper. When I asked her, she told me she heard me say it to her aunty (I can vaguely recall an outraged conversation with me ranting somewhat). I believe in being truthful to children but balancing this with what is approprite for their age. In the end I explained that Baby P was a little boy that died and is now in heaven with Allah (SWT) – I am deeply grateful she did not ask me how he died.

It was not that long ago, that the sad case of the missing Madeline McCann was in all of the newspapers, this time the picture of her pretty face was everywhere and I suspect most children were aware of her. I remember Little Lady asking about Madeline and trying to explain that she had gotten lost and no-one knew where and that her parents were looking for her. I know it bothered her, but was also something that was very distant from her every-day life and only at the periphery of her awareness.

All this reminded me of a study I read about recently which found that children suffered anxiety about modern life and all that goes with it: the environment, poverty, terrorism and general fear from what they pick up on in the news. This saddens me, I remember growing up in East London with my extended family with our big garden full of straberries and “my” pear tree, blissfully unaware of the big bad world and thick as a brick to go with it. I have always hoped to emulate this environment for my children, but seem to have only limited success against the inpinging of the information-overload world we live in. It’s ironic, the study also indicated that parents harked back to the “golden age” of their own childhoods which wasn’t always accurate – i.e. selective memory and airbrushing of those bits they didn’t like. That’s a point, I did get bullied in junior school and seem not to think too much about that.

In any case, it’s not an easy balance – being truthful with being careful not to scare your children. I guess the cushion is lots of unconditional love and affection and our children’s assumption that their parents will always take care of them. Little Man is convinced that Dad is the strongest man in the whole world alhamdulillah.

Children who lie often have parents who lie, and very quickly youngsters learn from their example…If you aren't honest with them, don't expect them to respond with honesty. ~Teaching Kids toTell The Truth - Harold J. Sala

Thursday 20 November 2008

Islamic Awareness Week 2008

I made a note of Islamic Awareness Week ages ago, so that I can mention it on this blog nearer the time, and then I promptly forgot in the chaos of the last few weeks. This year it runs from Monday 17 - Sunday 23 November and the theme is “Celebrating the Best of Britain - Promoting Shared Values". Head over to their brilliant website if you have a mo and have a browse.

Best of British Islam? My favourites are:

British Muslims: Salma Yaqoob, Sadiq Khan (MP Tooting), Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rochdale, Martin Lings (dec), Ruqayya Waris Maqsood, Dr Zaki Badawi (dec), Irene Khan (Amnesty International), Asia Alfasi, Luqman Ali, Yahya Birt, Abdullah Quillam (dec), Sumayya Ghanoushi, Sarah Joseph, and scores more.

Abdullah Quillam - Mayor of Liverpool and founder of England's first mosque - buried nearburied near Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall (who each translated the Qur'an), and Lord Headley.

Bloggers: Outlines, Indigo Jo Blogs, Spirit21, Mr Moo, Mas'ud Ahmed Khan, iMuslim,

Artists: Aerosol Arabic by Mohammed Ali, Tranquilart by Taslim Rashid, Ali Omer Ermes, Peter Sanders, Khaleel Muhammad, Hassan Rasool, Shaam.

One of Asia Alfasi's drawings - one of my colleagues thought this looked a bit like me.

Businesses: Aab, Arabian Nites, Hijabshop, Tahira Foods (yum yum), and Halal Candy UK (both answers to my prayers after the years in the wilderness without cola-bottles.)

Also: Emel, The Muslim News, Islam Is Peace Campaign (I love the adverts on the tube and busses), City Circle.

I think our community here has plenty to celebrate alhamdulillah. We get so much bad press (although some we just ask for), that our acheivements and successes really need to be put out there.

I suppose I could make a list of British Non-Muslim's I like but that would be beside the point. I could also happily make a list of Muslim's I don't like - but that wouldn't be very nice.

Who else would you name?

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Book Review: Diana Wynn Jones – Hexwood

Kooky Little Sister recommended this book to me, which usually means that it would be a good read as despite just completing her English degree KLS is not averse to the low-brow and entertaining.

When I started the book, I was very unimpressed and put it aside again. KLS asked me a few times if I had read it and I said I was going to. When she asked me to “give it back if you aren’t gonna read it” because it had to go back to the library, I told her I would read it straight away.

The book is about a girl called Anne who whilst recovering from an illness watches the nearby secretive Hexwood Farm estate and the odd people going in and out. She visits the woods behind the farm to find out more and finds herself meeting a strange series of characters: Mordion the skull-faced angsty servant, Hume the boy who keeps changing age and Yam the space robot. On a series of visits she finds that the roles and ages of people keep changing and that time and space are altered within the woods. At the same time, we learn about the Bannus, the machine which is causing the time-shifting and its owners the Reigners, the fearsome rulers of the universe who control what happens on earth and are trying to stop the strange mutation of time in the woods and also capture Mordion.

To begin with it, the book felt a bit childish. It is aimed at young adults but often books for this age group are fairly intelligent and engrossing reads (think Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass or Ruby in the Smoke series or the Wind on Fire trilogy by William Nicholson). It took me until the second half of the book to become a bit more interested. One of the big problems was sheer confusion. I kept having to check if I had missed a page and at one point I lost track completely of what was happening. As the story progresses, allusions are made to all sorts of events that have happened in the past and about the role of the Reigners. These unfold throughout the book in drips which is entirely infuriating as you always have just a part of the picture. Close to the end you have most of the information to understand what has been happening which is a relief, but you can see the ending coming a mile off. The exception is the identity if the Bannus which is a lovely twist.

As a children/teens book, I was also unsure about the tone. At times it felt simplistic and almost childish, at other times it touched on topics which are a bit more sensitive: suicide, cruel treatment of children and conceiving a child to raise as a servant.

In the end I did come away from this book with some enjoyment of its story and relief at its unravelling, but it has put me off other books by the same author a little.

Monday 17 November 2008

One Door Closes and Another Opens

I have been trying to sit down and write something and upload some pictures for days, but have not had any luck until now due to my volatile work situation.

Due to the threat of redundancy (which likely won’t happen now) and complete and utter boredom with certain parts of my work I have been job-hunting. I applied for a vacancy within my office which was right up my street (creating community projects for local Councillors) and was delighted to be invited to an interview. The only thing was they also wanted me to give a ten-minute presentation as part of the interview. After spending a week researching and reading and putting together a hand-out and presentation, I was stopped in my tracks. I met one of the women in the team who also had three children and asked after her children, she joked that she would let me know when she got to see them and confided that she was relieved that her child-minder was so accommodating. I had to call up HR and tell them I wouldn’t be attending the interview. I am willing to work twice as hard, but not to give up my weekends or evenings to work, my children deserve more than that.

I passed my research to a colleague (who I am pleased to say got the job) and tried not to dwell on events. I have to admit though that I did feel sad that I was giving up on such an exciting opportunity. I knew I just had to accept that this is the choice you sometimes have to make as a mother and that another name for “Muslim working mother” is sacrifice. Some women sacrifice time, family life and personal time to serve their communities and change their worlds for the better. Some women sacrifice years of education and their career dreams to stay at home and bring up their children in the best way possible.

I tried to forget about it, until the next day I got a call inviting me to interview for another job I applied for and thought was far out of my reach (coordinating outreach projects with the local Muslim community). I was pleased and mightily relieved I didn’t have to give a presentation until the next day the formal letter dropped through my door telling me I had to give a presentation to a panel of 5-6 people on a subject I know nothing about! I was so busy with work and the kids that I had no time to prepare, so I stayed up until 4.30am on Saturday morning to get everything done (my husband says that I just have to give a few more interviews and I’ll be a size 8 again through sheer nerves). So I am ready. I think. My work colleagues have agreed to let me practice my presentation on them in a bit, so I am getting my bouncy red ball ready for the presentation ice-breaker. I’ll try not to hit anyone in the face with it.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Oh There You All Are!!

I’m back, I’m back. I was this close to deleting this blog out of sheer frustration due to the problems I have been having with domain names and publishing this blog. So after a week of trying to get my old domain name back and then getting a new one and then that one insisting “error 404, page not found” I am online again.

After racking my brain and being determined not to admit defeat by a box of wires, the whole thing appeared at the click of a button (using the same procedure I have been repeating for days). I wanted to cheer. This is how I felt:

So SALAAM everyone (and if you ever feel as annoyed as I did, here is a little trick to release stress).

Tuesday 11 November 2008

For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

Today was Remembrance Day in the UK and after a week of thinking about where I stand on this I found myself standing on the steps of the Town Hall on this terribly cold day with elderly veterans of World War Two, schoolchildren and the Mayor amongst others.

I am never sure about buying the poppy for myself and my children because the proceeds of the poppies sold for this day go to assist the families of soldiers killed and injured in wars today (Iraq and Afghanistan) and this makes me wonder if I am doing the right thing.

But I thought about the men who gave their lives over the last hundred years for us and about how my people made their contribution also and deserve to be remembered. I thought about my grandfather thrashing about in the jungles of Burma in a blind panic, half-starved, looking for his younger brother and thinking about what he will tell his mother has happened to him (they found each other in the end). I thought about my husband’s grandfather driving trucks for the army in Italy, teaching himself to read so that he could write home and let his mother know he was still alive. I thought of my husband’s uncle, one of five brothers who all fought and were awarded vast tracts of land in Multan by the British who were impressed that all five sons in the family had enlisted and fought. I thought of the old man my mum told me about from her little village in the Punjab who ended up almost starved to death in a POW camp in Germany and could never forgot what happened to him.

I know a lot of Muslim’s would disagree with my decision to stand before these steps and join in the two minutes of silence. Whereas I cried whilst watching the memorial service on Sunday, one of my dad’s friends was visiting and turned around and asked why we cared – “they are not Muslims that died!” Little Lady was listening and piped up “But my mummy says her granddad was in the war, and daddy’s granddad.”

From left to right: English Muslim World War I Heroes: Gunner Azeez Leadon, Pte Mubarak Ballard, & Gunner Basheer Camp

So I stood this morning and felt the tears escape against my will when the bugle called the Last Post and the clock chimed eleven. An old soldier read out the haunting words of John Maxwell Edmonds inscribed on the famous Kohima Epitaph:

"When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today"

and the old men stood to attention as if back on duty again this day. The flag-bearers lowered their flags and the children fidgeted and everyone felt proud and tearful and sombre.

In Flanders fields.
by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Back Soon

Assalam-alaikam everyone,
just a note to apologise to anyone who reads this blog regularly and had wondered where it had gone. Like a complete plank I managed to allow my domain registration to expire and didn't realise until a Muslim dating (!?) service turned up at my old address. I was mortified. I had been waiting for an e-mail reminder to renew but didn't see any. I tried to log in with the registrar and couldnt and contacting them was a very long process. In the end I gave up (on the advice of my IT-bod cousin) and decided to get a new domain name. So although I am still happy muslim mama (insh'Allah!) I am no longer at My new address is I am still not sure about things like old links being updated and stuff, but I guess I have found myself the hard way to learn alhamdulillah.
So I hope you can be patient with me, I have a few new things to post, but blogger says that it can take up to three days to go online properly (I can't remember the exact words) so I am going to wait until then.
Walaikam-assalam and kind regards
Umm Salihah

Saturday 1 November 2008

Book Review: Isabel Allende – Zorro

Long-Suffering Sister introduced me to Isabel Allende and I find that she is rarely emphatic about a book, so I thought this author would be worth checking out. Although Allende is famous for “House of Spirits”, her writing has not really registered on my radar and I had no expectations except for the hope that this wasn’t the usual bodice-busting historical drama I avoid or a dry western.

I was in for a surprise. The story is the well-known legend of Zorro, the masked hero who has promised to fight against injustice wherever he finds it and begins some years before he is even born. This book charts the childhood of Diego de la Vega of as the son of a Shoshone warrior and a wealthy aristocratic Spaniard and his adolescence in Spain learning the ways of a caballero, or gentleman. We witness de la Vega fall deeply in unrequited love, honour the friendship of his milk-brother and go through the rites a young man must face as well as discovering his alter-ego Zorro and finding the purpose of his life.

The themes and topics covered in this book are so diverse and rich that every page is a treat. From Los Angeles in the nineteenth century to Spain during the Franco-Spain war, through a colonial Cuba to a seedy and louche New Orleans and onto the high seas. Yes this is a swash-buckler, with our hero fighting the Spanish Army, corrupt officials, pirates and love rivals, but it has a strong streak of social awareness running through it. Both Zorro and the narrator have a strong sense of humour which often made me smile, but the book is not entirely light-hearted – we witness the suffering of slaves, the massacre of Indian tribes, the mistreatment of political prisoners and the powerlessness and vulnerability of the women of this period.

The sheer variety of subjects Allende throws in with both skill and knowledge is astonishing: fencing, rainforests, colonialism, piracy, race and identity, gypsies, political intrigue, secret societies, secret passage-ways, native rites of passage, conjurer’s tricks, fake maps, pearl-diving, fortresses, pilgrimages…I haven’t even started. All of this at a break-neck pace.

The only criticism might be from some-one who is looking for a more traditional gung-ho boys book so often touches on issues the original stories would not have gone near – the way people of mixed race or other races are treated (although de la Vega is spared this – the stunningly beautiful women of New Orleans are labelled Mulatto and considered inferior to the white women), the way women are treated by society, especially if they are poor. This is quite a long read, but a well-written and immensely enjoyable one which gives you no chance of getting bored (looks like Long-Suffering Sister has come a long way from her previous fare of Sweet Valley High books - she'll kill me for mentioning that).